live|work: Love The Service

I've been thinking recently about the relationship between service experience and sustainability. (Hhhhhhhhm, maybe this is an obvious one I'll wait to get my comments). Firstly, there's the very powerful notion of 'a service paradigm' (and service innovation), which seeks to challenge our product-focused economic paradigm by delivering connected and effective service solutions to our needs in place of individual ownership of stuff. This paradigm challenges our obsession with products and, if delivered effectively, can create similar emotional and expressive power that we look for in products. I've written about this paradigm quite a bit in my previous posts. The pay-as-you-go car service Streetcar in the UK or Zipcar in the US is an iconic example. These car services challenge our obsession with owning a car and are establishing a new community of users. Adding to these emergent models of consumption, the service experience itself also has a powerful role to play in influencing our choices. I came across a public service trying to do this — "Oxfordtube". My hypothesis is that if you offer and deliver a great service experience, you can lead people toward more sustainable living but making a green choice more desirable.I am in the UK for a short trip and I've been (trying) to use the public transport system. If you want people to share a transport system you've got to deliver a good service experience otherwise, if they are in a position to do so, people will opt to use their own transport and pay their way around the problem. (There's currently a big debate going on in the UK about taxing/charging road drivers to decrease our vastly congested roads. Consumers are opting to stay in their cars, avoiding the misery of crowded trains, and are disputing the policy).

Unfortunately, although we have a great rail infrastructure in the UK the service does seem to fail us in many ways and it's expensive. However, I came across a nice bus service from London to Oxford that changed my behaviours and I think it is changing others too. Instead of taking the train, or driving because the train service keeps failing, I can take Oxfordtube. Normally taking a bus/coach would seem like the dull, cheap choice, but the clever bus company has chosen to up the ante and added a wireless network, breakfast on board, DC power and wide seat space. It also has seatbelts, so they are thinking about safety too. The bus might take longer but it's never delayed leaving and you can work away on the trip and munch on a nice breakfast. I know at least one car driver that has replaced his car journey with this bus ride because of these perks.

OZOcar in New York* took a similar tactic to introduce hybrid vehicles to a 'luxury' market who are used to driving or being driven in expensive, large cars. They focused on the car service experience — again adding features like a wireless network, digital radio, DC power in car, and training the drivers to deliver optimum service. The whole model challenges the existing car service industry on service AND introduces a more sustainable form of transportation. It led with service.

Local food and farmers markets kind of do the same thing, althougsh I am not sure how intentionally driven the service experience has been. A lot of people start shopping at the market because of the service experience (combine this with the fact that the product is often superior to what is found in a supermarket) — interacting with farmers and friendly people on the street, in the fresh air, in a small community atmosphere where part of the sell involves a tasting and conversation about the provenance of food. If you can afford it, the market experience far outreaches the typically anti-social, cold experience of shopping in a large supermarket.

Buying second hand goods had in the past never seemed sexy. For a select few it might have been a passion; for most of us it was once pretty undesirable. That is until the service experience that is E-bay www.ebay.com came along and made the process easy, fun and even slightly competitive. Has anyone else noticed 'E-bay Sofa Envy' trend? Every time I visit a friends' new pad, be it in New York, London or Oxford, I get "Yeah, we got our (oh so cool) second-hand sofa from E-bay, it was a bargain". This is something E-bay has created through their service experience. Think of all the reuse they are responsible for.

I'd like to see more companies leading through service experience and changing consumer behaviours in positive ways like the examples I espouse.

*Please note I need to make it transparent that I am currently working with OZO.

Written by Tamara Giltsoff